The Color of Noise (MVD Entertainment Group/Amphetamine Reptile Records, NR)

Color of Noise 75The Color of Noise is one of the better rock docs I’ve seen in recent years.

 

 

 

Color-of-Noise 500

In 1986, Tom Hazelmyer was running a tiny record label out of a hand grenade crate stashed beneath his bed. He was fresh out of the Marine Corp, and living in Seattle where his band, Halo of Flies, had recorded their first single. Hazelmyer made the label in an attempt to distribute his band Halo of Flies’ first single, hoping that it would get them signed to a “real” label. At the same time Sub Pop, Matador and Touch and Go were coming into their own, Hazelmyer’s own label, Amphetamine Reptile Records, was born out of that hand grenade crate. Amphetamine Reptile, or AmRep for short, became one of the most notorious record labels through the late 80s and early 90s for its groundbreaking punk/noise rock roster. Some of the most influential acts associated with AmRep include the Melvins, Helmet (who released Strap It On on AmRep, which singlehandedly keep the label afloat in the 90s), the Cows, and Mudhoney (who released their first single, “Twenty Four,” on AmRep).

After premiering at Jack White’s Third Man Records and a brief US tour shortly afterwards (which St. Louis missed out on), a new documentary on Hazelmyer and his label is coming to DVD. The Color of Noise, directed by Eric Robel and largely funded by Kickstarter, markets itself as the story of the man behind the label. Its final product is much more ambitious than that. The Color of Noise follows Hazelmyer’s life from 1986 to his present day situation as the artist Haze XXL, but also thoroughly covers every band and artists associated with Hazelmyer along with some rare concert footage along the way.

The film took about three years to create. Robel claims to have interviewed over 50 people for 2-3 hour sessions each, and his thoroughness pays off. The Color of Noise is one of better rock docs I’ve seen in recent years. Oftentimes I find myself soured by rock-docs that have too much back patting, or heavily lean on some tragedy-porn ending (I’m looking at you, A Band Called Death). The Color of Noise gracefully avoids both of these pitfalls. Much of the film’s strength is that it never leans too much on the life of Hazelmyer, though you get an honest portrait of the man through the artists that worked close with him. Also, when it does deal with tragedy like the premature death of Kristen Pfaff (bassist of Janitor Joe and briefly of Hole) as well as Hazelmyer’s own struggles with his health, it covers these events with much respect without dwelling too long on it in a way that often comes off as exploitative in other films.

The most memorable parts of this documentary come from every interview or live act involving Cows frontman Shannon Selberg. Pitchfork Media is spot-on in calling him “the Crispin Glover of the noise rock community,” but Andy Kaufman wouldn’t be too far off the mark either. Selberg is often known for absurd onstage behavior including wearing a business suit with stuffed animals lining the crotch or, on occasion, it’s shaving cream that he’ll shoot into the crowd after repeatedly stabbing himself in the groin with a pencil. His interviews have to be heard to believed, but know he’s got a story about how he spent the early years of his life believing he was a cat.

Be warned if you’re a Melvins fan you may be disappointed that their presence isn’t heavier. Also, it may surprise people that Superchunk doesn’t make an appearance at all, given their involvement in one of AmRep’s Dope, Guns ‘N Fucking In The Streets compilations, as well as running the indie label Merge themselves. As for other potential drawbacks, if you’re not a huge noise rock nerd you could find yourself feeling lost in the overwhelming amount of information covered, but to Robel’s credit it so well put together that I doubt many will complain. If you’re new to noise or have only been exposed by recent noise rock groups like No Age, Perfect Pussy, or METZ the time has never been a better time to discover noise rock at its roots. | Cait Lore

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